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North Korea’s Hydrogen Bomb Test – How Much is True?

In an oddly cheerful state announcement, North Korea claimed to have conducted a “perfectly successful” underground explosion of a hydrogen bomb Tuesday, saying it brought the country’s “nuclear might to the next level.”  This is the country’s fourth nuclear test since 2006 but is the first to allegedly involve a hydrogen device, writes The Telegraph.  This kind of bomb, otherwise known as a ”thermonuclear” device, relies on nuclear fusion to yield a high level of destructive power far greater than any other weapons utilizing a fission reaction.

Of course with North Korea’s record of embellishments and lies, their claim of joining the world’s thermonuclear ranks have already met expansive criticism.  Experts weighed in by pointing out the earthquake caused by the detonation at the Punggye-ri test site measured 5.1 on the Richter scale, which is no stronger than the tremor produced by the state’s last nuclear test in 2013.

“The initial analysis is not consistent with the claim the regime has made of a successful hydrogen bomb test,” explained White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

Regardless, the test still demonstrates North Korea’s ever-increasing nuclear ambitions.  The state’s regime is currently believed to hold up to 20 nuclear weapons in its arsenal, and half of which are loaded onto ballistic missiles.  Kim Jong-Un declared his intentions of mastering the technology for thermonuclear weapons last year after testing a submarine-launched missile.  The aim seems to be to develop a stockpile of thermonuclear bombs which could be loaded onto long-range missiles, with the Taepodong-2 missile presently in development supposedly having the ability to fly as far as the United States.

Neighbour and perpetual adversary, South Korea, condemned the test as a “grave provocation” and accused the North of a “direct challenge to world peace and stability,” with President Park Geun-hye calling an emergency meeting of the state’s National Security Council to discuss the next move.  China joined in on the reprobation, despite being North Korea’s only ally.  Beijing’s foreign ministry said that China “firmly opposes” the nuclear test and added that North Korea should “stop taking any actions that would make the situation worse.”  The Security Council considered whether to tighten economic sanctions last night, but it seems like that isn’t an option as North Korea’s economy is already bankrupt and China is generally opposed to setting tougher measures.

Ko Yun-hwa (L), Administrator of Korea Meteorological Administration, points at where seismic waves observed in South Korea came from, during a media briefing at Korea Meteorological Administration in Seoul, South Korea, January 6, 2016. (Image Source: REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)
Ko Yun-hwa (L), Administrator of Korea Meteorological Administration, points at where seismic waves observed in South Korea came from, during a media briefing at Korea Meteorological Administration in Seoul, South Korea, January 6, 2016. (Image Source: REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji)

The nuclear test breaches many UN resolutions, and Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, called the test “deeply troubling” and “profoundly destabilising for regional security.” Experts maintain that it is too early to assess whether the trial was in fact a significant step toward the state’s thermonuclear goals, but it still displays a frightening lack of regard for international interest.

“One thing that is clear is they are making progress across their nuclear arsenal,” said Matthew Cottee, a non-proliferation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Both the nuclear programme the missile programme are continuing without any significant control by the international community.”

Air particles, seismic data, and satellite images are still being analysed to determine exactly what device was used.  Joe Cirincione, nuclear expert and president of the global security organization Ploughshares Fund, believes North Korea may have mixed a hydrogen isotope in a regular atomic fission bomb to earn its title of ”hydrogen bomb.”

“Because it is, in fact, hydrogen, they could claim it is a hydrogen bomb,” he said. “But it is not a true fusion bomb capable of the massive multi-megaton yields these bombs produce.”

However, it’s quite difficult to know for sure at this point, adds Mr. Cottee.

“Underground testing makes it a lot easier to cover their tracks and make it harder for the international community to find out what they’re doing.”

About Jürgen Rae

Jürgen Rae

Jürgen is an avid writer. His love of creating content is only surpassed by his love of consuming it. When he isn’t surfing the web or hanging out with friends he can usually be found immersed in music production, sketching, or a good book.
Contact Jurgen: jurgen.rae@youthindependent.com